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Saturday Horror Movies :: Odd Thomas and Stranded

This week’s movie choices both were from this year’s array of horror releases, though one is still in the “yet to be released” limbo, at least here in the United States. Odd Thomas has been stuck in legal purgatory to the point that most report that it will never see the light of day. It has been released Internationally, though, and I am ever up for a challenge to find movies to watch and review – happy to say it was worth the effort. The other title, perhaps should have found its way to being “Stranded” in some kind of space in-between. Stranded presents itself a different challenge, as I found myself struggling to find anything redeeming about the movie, from start to finish. I will do my best though with the challenge at hand as this week’s offerings turn out to be the ying and yang of horror Saturdays, with one of the best horror movies I have seen paired up with one of the worst.

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Odd Thomas (2013)

I have a significant soft spot for stories about quirky small towns, unconventional love stories and heroes who exist on the flip side of “normalcy“. Odd Thomas hits on all three of these spots and brings them to life with wit, well-crafted characters and a story that is real within all of its unreal scenarios. The movie also does something that is more the exception than the rule in the world of cinema, bringing a book to the screen in a well done way. Though I have not read the Odd Thomas series of books, my husband has and thought that the film did the books justice, and then some. As for me, the movie’s representation has me wanting to read the books (Odd Thomas series by Dean Koontz), which to me is a book-to-film adaptation success.

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Odd Thomas tells us early on about his “odd” name, his special talents (“I see dead people. But then, by God, I do something about it.”), about his day job as a short order cook and about his true love, Stormy Llewellyn. Odd shows us around his town, introduces us to his friends, and in a very short span of time we care about all of them, and about Odd himself. Anton Yelchin has always been a favorite of mine, an actor whose talent has always shown through no matter what the role, whether on television (he was in one of my favorite episodes of Criminal Minds playing Nathan, an unforgettable would-be serial killer), or in films (some of my favorites being Charlie Bartlett, Like Crazy and Star Trek). Anton gives life to Odd, but more than that, he gives him heart, emotion, a sarcastic sense of humor, and the complexity needed to portray someone who is haunted in every sense of the word. He is an unlikely hero, but a hero nonetheless, and very quickly Odd becomes one of those characters that I find myself wanting more of (thus my interest in reading the books).

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Anton is not the only talent here though. We have a cast of characters played by both seasoned and relatively new actors. Willem Dafoe is one of those actors that I would argue is pretty much great in anything, which is true again here, adding a dose of film noir grit and almost a wink humor to every scene he is in. He plays the layers of Chief Wyatt well, as tough as nails police chief, lover who keeps getting his “game” interrupted, and paternal role to nearly an orphan Odd.

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Another member of the Pico Mundo’s police force that steals nearly every scene is Officer Simon Varner, played by relative newcomer Nico Tortorella, who was last scene stealing nearly every seen in Fox’s horror/serial killer series, The Following.

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Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who I remembered fondly as Tish from a handful of Doctor Who episodes) was wonderful as Odd’s friend, and single foster mother, Viola, who seems to be having some similar dreams as Odd has. Viola was one of those characters that I wanted to know more about, and who I was curious if on the page she was more developed. I also wonder if she is a character who grows in future stories, as her understanding and connection with Odd made for the basis of a great friendship, and future dead avenging/detective for the deceased partner.

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One cannot forget the other newcomer in the bunch who seemed to light up every scene she graced, Ashley Sommers brought the character of Stormy Llewellyn to life, giving her layers and levels of personality. Stormy is full of spunk and gumption the likes of 1940’s film heroines, with sharp and snappy delivery, a post modern Katherine Hepburn, or a younger “Lorelei Gilmore”.

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Both Stormy and Odd were so damn likeable that sometimes I wanted to pause the story, and the horror plot, and just spend some time watching these two being together. Chemistry and believability is a tough thing to capture on film, but these two had both in heaping amounts. The last scenes of the film that are almost seen as a montage (for reasons I will not “spoil” you with) were so heart-tugging beautiful, enough to bring tears to my eyes. I believed in their “destined” love.

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Yes, there are scares. Yes, there is a horror plot. Yes, I jumped out of my skin more than a few times. But, this is more than the typical horror film fare. It is more in the vein of quirky mysteries with dark twists that I love, and belongs in that list with movies like Dylan Dog, Cast a Deadly Spell, and with television series like Twin Peaks, Dead Like Me, Supernatural and to some extent, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. This is one of those “horror” movies that transcends the genre, and belongs in a “my favorite movie” list, without a doubt. It is a shame it may never see the light of day, or should I say the darkness of the movie theater, anywhere in the United States.

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It is worth the challenge to hunt it down though – its out there, go and look for it.

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Stranded (2013)

On the other hand, I could not encourage you enough to avert your eyes when it comes to watching the second film of the Saturday Horror Night. Stranded was one of the most poorly written and executed horror movies I have seen, and that is including all of the made for SyFy “creature features” I have a cheesy love for. This was not a “so bad its good” kind of movie, this was more of the all-around “so bad its bad” sort. The characters were ridiculous, the continuity of story nearly non-existent, and the special effects were laughable until the very last two seconds of film. Not to jump straight to the end, but speaking of, the “money shot” monster was obviously a set-up for a sequel which I hope never comes to fruition.

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We are introduced rather haphazardly to our four characters who, as the title proclaims, are stuck on a bio-dome space craft on what seems to be the surface of the moon because of a meteor storm that has damaged their vessel. The opening shots are so amateur looking and cinematically antiquated that the first question out of my mouth was to ask what year this was released (shockingly this year). There is talk of a carbon monoxide leak, though there was no combustion engines in sight (could they have meant carbon dioxide?) which may cause hallucination and sickness, which they remind us multiple times in the first few scenes. We have some “science” scenes where we witness clumsy handling of suspicious cells (which looked like toy vomit from the prank section of a magic store) wherein one of our fearless astronauts/scientists slices her finger on a broken test tube and of course tells no one.

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She gets infected, of course, though no one seems to notice our heroine acting weird, or looking ill, until she is suddenly very pregnant. Cue the loud groan and eye roll from me as I am reminded both of Alien and Dawn of the Dead, as well as recent Lyriquediscorde feature Hell Baby, and their evil birth scenes. This is the start of the ridiculousness which never ceases, but again, not in a entertaining nor humorous way.

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There is what we are to presume to be alien possession, there is drinking, there is countless bad decisions, and the unfortunate over-acting face off of heroine and newly possessed villain. Oh, and let’s not forget the curiously placed vintage toy robot that keeps appearing in scenes for no apparent reason.

I honestly spent most of the movie shaking my head or covering my eyes in dismay. It is rare that I will say that a film was a waste of my time, as I can usually find one or two redeeming qualities or moments in almost any movie I watch, but this one I would deem a waste of time. This is not laughable bad, it is just bad from start to finish.

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Really, what were you thinking, Christian Slater? Was this a lost bet, or a dare gone wrong?

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